The James River in southwest Missouri features both scenic beauty and quality fishing. Anglers should remember that special regulations apply in the Smallmouth Bass Special Management Area on the 22 miles of river between Hooten Town bridge (the Loop Road at Route O) and the Highway 413/Highway 265 bridge at Galena. In this area, the minimum length limit on smallmouth bass 15 inches. The daily creel limit of six black bass may only include one smallmouth bass. It is important for anglers to correctly identify the three species of black bass found in the James River. Identification aids, maps, fishing tips, and other information can be found at: mdc.mo.gov.
In 2016, fish surveys were conducted at three sites on the James River between Delaware Town Access and Galena. Survey results indicated that the black bass population consisted of approximately 55 percent smallmouth bass, 35 percent spotted bass, and 10 percent largemouth bass. Similar to previous flood years, record flooding in 2017 most likely increased the proportion of spotted bass in the river. The 2016 survey also indicated that about 52 percent of the smallmouth bass population was greater than 12 inches and 20 percent was above 15 inches within the Special Management Area. The largest smallmouth bass sampled in the 2016 survey was 21.2 inches. Anglers are likely to catch many spotted bass between 12-15 inches in the lower reaches of the James River, downstream of Kerr Access. If anglers hook into a largemouth bass, it will likely be over 15 inches. Soft plastic baits including flukes, tubes, grubs, and worms and crayfish-patterned crank baits are very productive when fished around boulders and old woody debris. Density and size structure of Ozark bass (goggle-eye) looks good for 2018 with 42 percent of the population greater than 7 inches and 25 percent of the population greater than 8 inches in 2016. A number of 9" fish were observed in 2016 as well. Anglers should fish small grubs and jigs around stumps and boulders. Longear sunfish are abundant, although most are within the 3-5 inch range.
Channel catfish are very abundant within the middle and lower river and can be caught with live or prepared baits. Gigging for sucker species can be good throughout the season, but is influenced by water level and water clarity. Walleye were stocked in the James River in 2003-2005 and again in 2010 and 2013. The 2017 walleye survey found a fair number of walleye in the 15-22 inch range in the river downstream of Galena. There have been several angler reports of walleye caught in the James River from Table Rock Lake upstream to the Delaware Town Access. If the James River rises enough, paddlefish will migrate upstream from Table Rock Lake. The extent and duration of migrations are dependent upon river flows, but can extend for several miles upstream. White bass make a spawning run up the James River in March and April and can be caught in the James River through late summer. Public access points can be found at: http://short.mdc.mo.gov/ZZG.